By Valentine GRAVELEAU
A gut-wrenching war movie from Germany and pitch-black Irish comedy were the big winners as British cinema handed out its annual BAFTA awards on Sunday, with less than a month to go to the Oscars.
With 14 nods, German director Edward Berger’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” started the night as the joint most-nominated foreign-language film in the BAFTA academy’s 76-year history.
The Netflix drama triumphed with seven awards, including best film and best director for Berger, as well as original score and cinematography, in the buildup to the Academy Awards on March 12.
Berger credited his daughter Matilda for turning his “doubts into trust”, after she told him he had to make a movie of Erich Maria Remarque’s powerful 1929 novel, which she was reading in school.
Producer Malte Grunert said the British plaudits for a German-language film were “just incredible”, and it has also amassed nine Oscar nominations.
With a nod to modern-day conflicts including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he said that the film and novel showed that “war is anything but an adventure”.
The German movie had tied with Ang Lee’s martial arts drama “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”, co-starring Michelle Yeoh, which also earned 14 BAFTA nominations in 2001.
Yeoh was nominated for best actress this year as a worn-down laundromat owner who transforms into a high-kicking heroine, in the wildly inventive “Everything Everywhere All At Once”.
Yeoh’s kung-fu science-fiction film received 10 BAFTA nominations, but only won one, for editing. She lost out to Cate Blanchett for her portrayal of a troubled classical music conductor in “Tar”.
“This is extraordinary. I didn’t prepare anything (to say) because it’s been such an extraordinary year for women,” the Australian actress said, convinced that the award would go to one of her fellow nominees.
– Making sadness fun –
Also on 10 nominations, but faring far better in London, was the Irish tragicomedy “The Banshees of Inisherin” co-starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson.
Its four wins included best supporting actor for Barry Keoghan and best supporting actress for Kerry Condon — who at first was not given the prize after a miscommunication on stage.
“Banshees” director Martin McDonagh, one of the rare UK nominees for this year’s top gongs, did win “best British film” despite the heavily Irish profile of “Banshees”, and best original screenplay.
“Making a sad film shouldn’t be so much fun,” he said.
Beating out the favourite Farrell, US actor Austin Butler won the leading actor prize for his all-out portrayal of the king of rock and roll in “Elvis”.
“This means the world to me,” Butler told the ceremony, still using the Presley drawl that he learned for Baz Luhrmann’s movie.
– Kremlin critic ‘banned’ –
The awards suffered controversy two years ago when BAFTA gave a lifetime achievement award to British actor and producer Noel Clarke, only for a series of sexual misconduct allegations to emerge against him.
This time, Bulgarian investigative journalist and Kremlin critic Christo Grozev said he has was “banned” from attending the awards, where a film about dissident Alexei Navalny won best documentary.
Grozev, who is credited with helping to reveal a plot to kill Navalny, appears in the documentary. He tweeted “wow” after the prize was announced.
“He is such an important part of this film, so it’s very sad for us that he is not here,” producer Odessa Rae told reporters at the awards.
London’s Metropolitan police said only that “some journalists face the hostile intentions of foreign states whilst in the UK”, while BAFTA said the safety of its guests and staff was a priority.
– Blue ribbons –
BAFTA also faced criticism for overlooking women.
Only one, Gina Prince-Bythewood, was nominated for best director, for “The Woman King”. That was one more than the Oscars managed in that category this year.
Berger, Farrell, Blanchett and Jamie Lee Curtis were among many attendees who wore blue ribbons on their suits and gowns in support of refugees.
The gesture came after many more people were displaced by earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, and just ahead of the one-year anniversary of Russia’s war in Ukraine.